Monthly Archives: April 2013

Survey and Clear Out

Sorry we have been a little quite on the blog front this week, its been a busy week for both of us.

We have been in a bit of a no mans land this week, as we are having a survey done on the French house, it was actually done on Friday but we have to wait for the report on Tuesday so feel a bit apprehensive and nervous.

As I mentioned in earlier posts they don’t really do surveys in France, they check for Termites, Asbestos and a few other things but thats about it. There attitude is if the house has been around for a long time and its still standing then its ok. But being british we have to do things by the book old chap. Hmmm I think I’m with the French, I did give the house a once over and prodded and poked a few things and all seemed to be fine; the odd damp patch and a few crumbling floor boards, but then it it over 100 years old.

We shall see i may be proved wrong and the survey may show up lots of bad things…. god i hope not.

We have also started to pack the house up, working through all the stuff we don’t use, a lot of people have said to us dosnt it feel sad and unsettling. I think it did for about 30 seconds but then I just felt excitement, as much as i love all my nick nacks there i also love a good clear out. The whole process is very liberating and i love rediscovering things i haven’t seen for ages and deciding if they will stay with us or be sent to another home.

Just thinking of all the new things waiting to be discovered in all those fabulous French markets make me go all quivery yehhhh.

Kevs in the shed clearing out all the clutter and relishing all the organising he’s doing, I’m in the office flicking through cards, labels & nick nacks heaven.

Right must dash the boys are coming over for drinks, a takeaway and a slushy movie so must dish up some nibbles.

Heres something for the weekend

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Let the Games begin!!

K: The prologue to our new book (so much bigger than a chapter, this) began this afternoon with our agent, Laurette’s sparkling words “I am thrilled to be able to tell you….”

After an excruciating week, the selling brothers and sisters finally accepted our second offer, which coincidentally was our maximum offer. We are soon to be the extraordinarily proud, excited and terrified owners of a former wine maker’s farm in Fayssac, in the south west of France.


I want to start off by giving a massive apology to several people around me (most of all my poor suffering mother) for being a major grumpy pain in the back side. I think I reached a new low this week, and it’s not somewhere I want to go again. The lack of direction and control was too much for me and I let a darkness win. I hope you’ll all be happy to know that it dispersed, and mum managed to snap me back in line with a well-deserved telling off email this morning.

It also looks like we’ve managed to sort out our temporary London accommodation problem. To the dog-hating agent at Conrad Fox, dog-owners can rent when they have a network of supportive friends (who know they’ll benefit from a week or two by a pool in the sunshine eventually!) Emily & Ed (of the distinguished building and decorating company are moving to north London in July & will rent their south London pad out – initially to us. And luckily, they love Barnaby!

We need a little bit of help now… What do we call our new home & enterprise? We are putting it out to all our lovely friends and readers – please send us some suggestions. Something French preferably, fitting, and elegant. Thinking caps on please! A week in one of our gites (when they’re done in 5 years!) for the winner.

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The Waiting Game

K: This week has been pretty stressful. We’ve been back and forth with offers and counter offers for our favourite house in Fayssac. We managed to get the sellers to show their hand and let us know what their minimum price would be, but the gulf between their minimum and our maximum was pretty huge at €14,000. The agents have also kindly reduced their fee in an attempt to try to get the house sold. Our final offer was our maximum, and I’ve not heard anything for a few days. I’m not holding out much hope – the sellers are a group of brothers and sisters and they all have to agree. The mayor in the house next door is one of the brothers, and he seems not to relish his role as a middle-man – he replied with a lovely message to my note introducing myself at the beginning of the week.

Add to that the slow progress of having to find temporary accommodation in London. On Wednesday I could have cried when one agent point blank told me that I’d never find a place, with a dog. She actually said “dog owners don’t rent!”

So, in 6 weeks, we’ll be homeless with nowhere to look forward to. What a fun game!

P: He’s so dramatic and I’m the thespian in the relationship hmm. I grant you it has been a frustrating week, they say that good things come to those who are prepared to wait. So lets wait and see what happens, I’m a great believer in fate I’ve lived my life by that and I’m not going to change now. So if we are meant to have this house it will be and if not then I’m sure there is another one just as fabulous out there, trouble is trying to find it.

So to keep our spirits up I’m posting a happy little ditty by one of the greats.


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The week after house hunting began.

Saturday 13th April

Hello all and a happy weekend to you.

I’m writing this blog while making dinner – tonight’s culinary delight is good old bangers and mash; a winter dinner I hear you think. Ye, because it’s still winter outside, pouring in fact but slightly warmer than the sub zero temperatures we have endured of late.

I am feeling slightly jealous as i have just checked the temperatures in Fayssac where we are hoping to move to and it’s 23 degrees and sunny today and will climb to 27 by mid week. Which is one of the reasons we want to pack our house on on our backs and fly south.

Now I also hear you say “what the hell have you two been up to all week after leaving us high and dry with your last post telling us you have found your dream home” or maybe just “whats happening?”

Well we haven’t been sitting around feeling all rosy and chuffed at finding the house. We, well Kev actually, has been very busy trying to work out what budget we have to do all the necessary renovations and what offer we should put in to make the dream come true.

In fact his workings out started at the airport whilst waiting for our delayed flight home. We sat in departures squeezing the last bit of life out of my iPad looking at guttering, fencing and boilers; very glamorous NOT, all i wanted to look at was swimming pools and paint colours.

Ooh sorry have to dash the oven buzzer is going so have to get dinner ready.

Sunday 14th April

Morning all, it’s so windy out there today but at least it’s a bit warmer.

My bangers and mash turned out to be one of the best I’ve made, if I may say so myself. Our Saturday evening consisted of probably the last roaring log fire we will have in this house, lots of red wine and copious amounts of a really lovely port our Rach brought with her which accompanied some rather stunning cheeses we bought up in the village. For our teleplay visual delights we had a double bill of Scott and Bailey with a Britain’s Got Talent intermission.

Anyhoo enough of our indulgences, back to the French house.

We have also decided that if an offer is accepted, we’ll get a survey done as this is going to be a long term project and we want to make sure the house is in good nick and find out what, if any, nasty surprises lay in store. In France they don’t have surveys done, they work on the principle that if the building has been standing for all these years it must be ok. Kev has managed to find two English surveyors who have sent in quotes and one will be lined up ready to go.

So the big question now is what offer do we make on the place, it’s on the market for 318,000 Euros but the French always inflate the prices on houses. We already know that a previous offer of 260,000 Euros was turned down, but they weren’t cash buyers like we will be. Our agents have said we are in a excellent position as cash buyers and that if we put an offer in they will strongly recommend the sellers accept it. Here’s another difference between buying and selling in the UK: the agents work for the buyer not the seller and the seller can have their house on the market with multiple agents.

Lots to think about this weekend and then hopefully we will make an offer early this coming week.
We will keep you posted.

Now just in case the sun does decide to honour us with an appearance this Sunday here is a little ditty to celebrate.

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Day Seven

So today we had a well earned day off, didn’t even wake until way after 10am bliss.
The weather was pleasantly nice today and the sun made an appearance late afternoon and to celebrate we partook of a bottle of rosé sat in the Place Wilson watching the world go by and soaking up a few warm rays.
But before that Kev took us on a walking tour of Toulouse city centre and I have to say it’s a really lovely city, lots to see and explore I got particularly excited when we found a huge Brocante market and quickly found a few bargains. Lunch was taken sat on plastic chairs in a rough and ready barbecue stall but I have to say the food was amazing all cooked to order and very fresh yummy.
After our rosé/people-watching hour we retired for a well earned siesta and then went for even more food and drink and found a fabulous restaurant only steps away from the hotel Le Bon Vivre
The decor was up cycled French Brocante, the atmosphere was bustling, all French people we are the only British and the food was fantastic, I highly recommend it.
Now we are sat in a very comfy bed with a bottle of the local red, I’m writing the blog and Kev is busy looking for a Mr Bricolage near to Fayssac as he wants to buy a tape measure before we view the house again in the morning.
We are heading off early for Fayssac in order to measure up as in France they do not provide plans, and work out roughly what we would like to do to the place in order to work out how much we think we will have to spend on renovations.
Once this is done we can decide what offer we would like to put in for the house.
The system in France is quite a bit different from the UK, the agent works for you not the seller,so we have a huge list of questions for her to ask the owners.
We have decided to take the 6pm flight home so we have more time at Fayssac but its full so will hope for jump seats or we will have to stay over and get the first flight out on Tuesday, luckily I’m working near Heathrow on Tuesday so can go straight to work from there if need be.
Right off to count Zzzs now we are both very tired very contented and excited.
Argh The Good Life

Night night all sleep well.

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Tarn – The Tuscany of France

This is the department of France we will hopefully be living in. Fingers crossed and all that.

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Day Six

K – I just want to reiterate how amazing last night’s guest house was. The village it sits in is the type of place we would love to end up. We had the choice of driving into Moissac for a meal (where we’ve eaten before) or to go to the “rustic” restaurant opposite, called “Le Cadillac”! We opted not to drive, and ended up meeting some super-friendly people and eating some stunning food. I felt slightly humble about criticising the name – it turns out that a guy from the village travelled in the 18th Century to the US as one of the initial immigrants and founded the town which was later to become Detroit!

So, after a very delightful breakfast (we’d paid less than the night before in a vile Ibis in Carcassonne, by the way) we went off to meet our lovely Jenny, the host for 3 of the day’s second-viewing properties.

For those of you who have had to suffer the interminable “Gayraud” fascination since January, this was the first time we’d been back. This is reference 12 on our map. And it didn’t disappoint. Mum, who had been slightly sceptical when she saw the website, was bowled over, and even more so when she fell in love with the adjoining property, also for sale. If only we had another 50% in our slush fund.

We visited the next two on our short list, neither of which were contenders, then had a lovely lunch in Roquecor. The chef used to work in Quaglino’s in London and the place is owned by a French/Australian couple who were very welcoming. On our way up to the next appointment, mum, clearly unaware of the global outreach of our Swedish candle supplier, suggested it might be an idea to hire a van to be able to transport any Ikea furniture we might want to buy from London.

We then visited a contender followed by a non-contender and finished finally at 4pm (I had to have a snooze in the car at 3.15 – it is unbelievable how tiring this has all been).

We got to Toulouse at about 5.30. I dropped the team off at the hotel in the Toulouse equivalent of Oxford Street, taxis beeping me as the luggage was unloaded, then sought out the world’s worst car park. Please, at all costs, avoid the Parking Victor Hugo. It was so bad, I paid my €1.20 to leave and find somewhere else.

The Novotel in Toulouse is very special – new, inexpensive and reallllllly nice. And, for those BA people reading, we get a discount – ask me (thanks, Bertrand).

After an hour’s nap for me, and an hour’s underwear shopping for Phill, we cracked open a pink Cremant (inexpensive sparkling wine from areas other than Champagne, but made in a similar way, and usually just as good. The Cremant de Bourgogne is made just down the road, and is usually a really safe bet for about €5-€8) and started an elimination process. We all independently agreed on the same top 3 (refs 12, 23, 32) and same bottom 3. It didn’t take very long till we actually all agreed on the chosen one.

I have to say, it was definitely a momentous and exciting occasion. A bit emotional too, because I did get my way. We’ve opted for ref 32 in Fayssac, just north of Gaillac. It is really difficult at the moment to show you all in either photos or words what made us decide this. But, physically being there has made 4 of us come to the same final decision. Please, all have faith. The link to the agent’s site is here.

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Day Five

K – Today was ok. We saw a massive house in a horrible village then a horrible house in a nice village then a great house in a great village that we’re going to buy. Now we’re in a great B&B which has inspired us. Ask me later about mum’s new invention – a fabric wrap for the roof of a house to protect it from the wind. Night night.

P – OK, so that was Kev’s version of the day, he is very tired because he has driven all day. He has already decided which house we are going to try to buy – I say try because having bought and sold houses there is no definite guarantee you can get what you want, but he seems very determined.

Our day started with a 40 minute drive to Belveze du Razes, a nice–ish village in the Aude, then an interesting double property in another, much nicer village, Pech-Luna, again in the Aude – it’s a perfect location as it’s only an hour’s drive to the Mediterranean and to the Pyrenees and all the ski resorts, plus they will tell you that the weather is that much better. BUT as much as I would like to have liked the villages and the houses (we will be back, however, to explore Mirepoix – a medieval stunner), neither felt right nor ticked the boxes, and our thoughts keep gravitating back up to the Tarn or Tarn et Garonne. Both departments are lovely and quite similar, I could list a load of things we love about these departments; the undulating hills, the vineyards, the style of houses etc, but it’s not a singular thing – it’s a gut thing. In hindsight, they are the only departments where the agents haven’t actually tried to sell us the virtues of the area – they’ve sold themselves. We just love both departments and that has answered a big question which all the agents have asked us: where do you want to live? And now we know.

We have a short long list or a long short list which ever you think sounds better, and we started looking at the houses on that list today and will finish by 4pm tomorrow, then in good old X factor style we will sit with big glasses of wine in a smart Toulouse restaurant and go through the pros and cons of all of them and whittle them down until hopefully one rises to the surface. Kev’s has already risen, as you may have gathered.

So keep an eye on the blog on Sunday for news of which if any we have chosen as our front runner. And to see if Kev gets his way.

K – I’m on a weird sleeping pattern, but it’s fun, because I’m waking early. And this is giving me a little chance to edit all the blogs before Phill posts them! Mum’s classic line yesterday was a comment about all the little houses which had their own wind turbans. I’ve got the patent application in already, so all you entrepreneurs out there can just sit back down.

We started our re-visits this afternoon. Six in total. One is my favourite, another is Phill’s, and one’s a dud (just to keep mum and Ian on their toes). The one we saw today is my favourite, and here’s why. You look at the agent photos and it’s nothing special. But this place is going to keep us busy for 10 years – a magnificent garden to landscape, a 4 bedroom house to renovate, and 3 attached barns and stables to convert. It’s got a great view, on the edge of a little village on top of a hill, surrounded by vines (though, unfortunately, not in the direction this house looks), with a VERY trendy little cafe, and summer events, and smack bang in the middle of what is known as the Golden Triangle – the tourist destinations of Albi, Galliac, and Cordes sur Ciel, and 40 minutes away from another of our favourites, St Antonin Noble Val. And, a 55-minute drive for me from Toulouse airport. The price needs to be worked out, as it’s too expensive at the moment. But we have a persuasive agent on our side. We’ll fill you in tomorrow!

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Day Four

P (edited by K) – Unfortunately, the sun most definitely did not have his hat on today. He had his umbrella up and sou’wester on.
But the rain didn’t deter us on our quest, so eastwards we went to the Tarn and Aveyron (both very different looking areas) for a packed morning before having to head to Toulouse airport to pick Kev’s mum and her boyfriend up. We started the morning in the Tarn with house number 32 on our map which is situated on the outskirts of a lovely little village called Fayssac, quite high up on a hillside, with amazing views of the countryside. We parked in front of a beautiful rustic church where a craggy old man was setting up stalls for a cross-stitching exhibition on the weekend. Ooh this town knows how to live, i thought. And then i spotted a really trendy looking bar bedecked with vintage furniture, so you can imagine I was drawn straight there like a magnet, for a gander, and I wasn’t disappointed. It looked lovely and the garden was well groomed and planted. I lost myself for a moment in a daydream of sitting with chilled glass of rosé in awe of the view in front of me. Back to reality I quickly joined Kev to meet our agent Laurette, a really lovely lady. I thought she was French, but she greeted me with a very pucker English accent. Now, this was one of those last minute addition properties – see it cos we’re passing by, but surely will come to nothing. Can you guess what happened next?!?
She swung the iron gates open and in we marched to be greeted by a grand looking house and large garden which in fact turned out to be huge as it has lots of pasture land slopping down from the back of the house, perfect for walking Barnaby Pickles. Kev and I looked around the exterior whilst the house was opened up for us, the views were really beautiful and we had already started to plan the garden in our heads. The house and adjoining buildings didn’t disappoint, in fact they really excited us with possibilities of what we could do with them, although the cash signs were also ringing in my ears. Laurette told us she thinks the house is overpriced at 318’00k for the market and had had to rein the owners in as they wanted to put it on for 600’000k, so room for movement we thought. We quickly worked out how much we thought we would need to spend on it and gave here an amount we could afford to buy for just for here to sound out the owners. We left her with a possible second viewing time and to come back to us with news about what the owners would accept.
K – before we move on, those of you who’ve had to suffer our (surely) annoying banter about our dream house at Gayraud (how appropriate), also pre-named Maison Maurier, ref 12 – see Day 6 blog – will be happy to know that my passions have moved on to this property. Especially after the agent slipped another house under our noses – an identical Maison de maitre in another village which had been completed, and renovated to a high standard. Now on the market for 4 times what she thought it was worth!!
So, on we travelled, north slightly, to meet Steven, who was going to be showing us 4 properties. In brief summary, 2 were no-goes, not even worth a mention. One, ref 42, was utterly mesmerising, but on a scale I couldn’t even imagine. It was more of a commercial property, and one day it will be opened up as a boutique hotel with about 15 rooms, and be a huge success. And I will willing pay an extortionate amount for a night there. The last, ref 41, was going to be ditched in an effort to get to the airport in time, but thank goodness we didn’t. The conversion had been started by an English family, and the workmanship was excellent. The price was good, and the potential for the remaining accommodation was exciting. But something didn’t work. And we’ve since worked out that it’s the area. Twice now we’ve been to the Aveyron, and decided it’s just like home. We want more French.
So, our viewing over for the day, we got to the airport just as mum arrived, we battled some storms on the motorway on the way to Carcassonne, and turned up at what is hopefully going to be the worst hotel of the trip – the Ibis. Quick relax, then out to find out why it was a Unesco heritage site. We turned left out the hotel. Please don’t make the same mistake we did and wander for an hour round the new part of town wondering what all the fuss was about. Turn right!!!!

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Day Three

P: Well we survived Chateau Rodie and awoke to the most amazing misty view from our room? We had an lovely breakfast in a very grand banqueting hall, Kev even toasted his own bread on the roaring open fire. The day was a lot less entertaining, sadly, if just as tiring. The sun blessed us with its presence all day and the mercury managed a balmy 21 degrees at one point. It was so nice to raise our pale faces to Le soleil, Kev now has a slightly redish forehead.
K: I was over the moon to have survived the night at the eerie chateau, and to have escaped without meeting the bolshy father (turns out he’s half Welsh, which explains a lot).
Our first meeting was in the most beautiful vine-surrounded village called Floressas with Tracy, who took us on an impromptu viewing with one if her clients she bumped into. Great view, but average house and overpriced I think. Next she took us to our reference 13. It was one of my more promising prospects, but it failed miserably. I truly think this could have been Tracy’s “heart-dropper”, but to give her dues, she stayed spritely and positive throughout. After leaving her, we saw two private sales advertised, and one may turn out to be a possibility.
We whizzed off to meet our lovely Jenny from January (no, she’s not a pin-up) who showed us references 2 & 38. Phill actually offered to drive, but it lasted all of 3 metres before he chickened out, and we had to swap back (P – bloody cheek, the car was manual gear and I’ve not driven manual for ages). Both properties have potential, but are dreadfully overpriced. Phill was making all the right noises about the second (P- it was amazing very bohemian lots of unusual spaces and hidden gardens and the possibility of a fantastic studio space/shop) – I thought he was just being polite, so I joined in, only to find that he actually loved it and I didn’t! He wasn’t happy at my perceived deception (not deliberate), and it has led to our first spat of the trip.
We arrived slightly early for our next appointment, at 1pm. We wandered about the village of Beauville for a while before passing the office/home of the next agent, and heard him laughing in his garden. When we knocked his door at 1250, his wife answered to say that he was out and would be back at 1. The lies didn’t endear us to Carl – that and his Bermuda linen suit, coiffured grey hair and moustache. Hence, we weren’t expecting much from the next viewing (ref 23). How wrong though! It’s little surprises like this which make the trip worthwhile. A great little ensemble of dwellings, at a great price, overlooking at 16th century church. We’re going back to see it on Saturday.
P – Our next appointment was in the Lauzerte which is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, mmmm it is really lovely but I wouldn’t go ga ga over it. Anyway we were due to meet Marie Hellene at 3pm outside her agency, no one showed up, we managed to find a contact number and called her to be greeted with “Oh I forgot” not a very promising start. 10 minutes later she turned up without much of an apology and sped us off up a hillside to see the property, which I may say from a distance ticked lots of boxes. After screeching up the virtually vertical driveway in first gear we were greeted by a really pretty house with a breathtaking view of the the valley below. Unfortunately the house and outbuildings didn’t really match up to the view and more worryingly she had to admit to us that there had been termites in the property, which I have read in many of my French books is a major disaster and I signal not to touch it with a barge pole. A big sigh from me as I do love a hillside view, must be my Welsh upbringing.
Off to Cazes-mondenard and at last a village with open shops hooray (most of France shuts down on a Wednesday afternoon). The village looked lovely is especially loved the gaggle of ladies gossiping outside the only boutique in the village. We brought some pasteurise and a coffee of a very friendly baker who once he new we were he to view a house tried to sell us another two in the village, in fact apparently everything is for sale at the right price.
We sat soaking up the afternoon sunshine waiting for our agent observing the workings of the village and thinking this feels like a great place and maybe we would fit in here, that was confirmed on the arrival of Liz our agent, probably the daughter of Dame Clare Balding. A vision in black with a John Wane swagger but the politeness of Dorris Day.
Off we swagged to see the oldest house in the village. Situated on the outskirts and with a fabulous garden views of the rolling hills, and one big white apple storage hanger, which I was happy to overlook but made Kev frown. The house and outbuildings are amazing and offer huge potential but need lots of money spent on them but with investment would I’m sure provide us with a fabulous home, business and from what Liz (our agent) tells us a great community, with lots of Fetes led by the 88 year old Mayor.
Anyway Kevs frowns aside we are going back for a second viewing on Saturday.

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